BY LAIRD RANKIN

“Why, it’s a flying fortress!”, said Richard Williams, a reporter for the Seattle Times, when he first saw the prototype of the B-17 unveiled and tested on July 28, 1935. The name stuck. Boeing registered it as trademark.

The Flying Fortress was a heavy, 4-engine, strategic bomber developed for the U. S. Air force and produced between 1936-1945. When in full-scale production, it was considered to be the “first truly mass-produced large aircraft.”

The aircraft was used mainly during World War II in the daylight precision strategic bombing campaign against German industrial, civilian and military targets. The B-17 also participated, to a lesser extent, in the War in the Pacific, where it conducted raids against Japanese shipping. It became the aircraft of choice among crew, lauded for its durablity, utility and survivability.

When the war ended, most of the B-17s were scrapped. The US Air Force kept some for VIP purposes. The US Coast Guard took 30 in 1945. The last one was retired in 1959.

THE CANADIAN CONNECTION

In Canada, the RCAF acquired six B-17s  in 1943. All six belonged to #168 Heavy Transport Squadron which operated out of RCAF Station Rockcliffe, Ontario. Stripped of their armaments and armour, their job was to fly mail to Canadian troops serving in Europe. In total, the squadron made a total of 636 trans-Atlantic mail flights (of which 240 were flown by the B-17s); 26,417 flying hours; 2,245,269 pounds of mail from Canada to the U.K.; and 8,977,600 pounds from the U.K. to the continent. The mail planes were marked with the squadron logo and after every successfully completed trip, a mailbag symbol was painted onto the aircraft. The squadron logo and subsequent ‘mailbag’ art was considered nose art.

Aircraft #9204 was severely damaged at Rockcliffe on September 17, 1944 and was never repaired. Another, #9205, survived a mid-air collision on January 23, 1944 with a Wellington over the Bay of Biscay (in the Atlantic Ocean, north of Spain, west of France). The Wellington was lost and the B-17 made it back to Engand on one engine. The story was not released until March 14th of that year.

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